“Transitioning” isn’t anywhere near as insulting as I expected, which is almost the same thing as being good. It’s a dull episode, but not a dead one. Rachel and Sam actually have energy. Hell, they actually have chemistry (for a moment, don’t blink, you will miss it)! The cast actually comes to play. The trans story doesn’t whitewash the world in the name of positivity, and it ends with a genuinely inspiring musical number. The long-term stories about Will’s deal with the devil, Kurt and Blaine rekindling, and Rachel and Sam truly embracing their hypnotic suggestion all reach their expected turning points, which is part of why “Transitioning” feels like filler. We already know what’s going to happen. Nice to get it out of the way, though.
Speaking of “nice,” that’s part of why the episode doesn’t make much impact. Everyone’s so reasonable. Correction: Everyone from McKinley is so reasonable. Vocal Adrenaline is made up of assholes, but even that is one-note, and they’re so easily persuaded—everyone but Clint—when Will pretends to play ball that they feel as harmless as everyone else. Where’s Santana when you need her? As for everyone else, it’s like “Transitioning” is the part of a 12-step program where you go around and tell everyone you’ve offended you’re sorry crossed with the last-ditch feeling of an aging TV series trying to wrap everything up in time. For instance, before even the halfway mark, there’s a scene where Beiste tells Sam and Spencer how proud he is of them. First of all, why? Second of all, are you sure? What’s really funny is the scene starts with Sam and Spencer trying to find out who wrapped Beiste’s car so they can go beat them up. Cut to: “I couldn’t be prouder.”
As for that car-wrapping, Beiste is so “boys will be boys” about things because he’s trying to repress the pain. But when he finally gets to open up about it—in a hilarious scene where Unique sneaks up on him at night in the boy’s locker room because Unique is secretly a serial killer—he says he doesn’t really care about any of that. It’s just hard to go through the transition alone. At which point Unique places her hand on Beiste’s and says, “You’re not alone,” presumably to put her prey at ease before going in for the kill. So, yes, “Transitioning” addresses harassment. But first it consigns all the transphobia to Vocal Adrenaline, which is an army of CGI stormtroopers, and then it has Beiste shake it off, because the bigger pain is within. The harassment is really just a plot point in a story about Will quitting once and for all. Beiste’s story is really about finding strength in community. Both stories work fine on their own, especially the second, but the intersection forces the former to take on the weight of the latter. It’s like bringing a song to a gunfight.
Similarly, Karofsky is way too cool about Blaine leaving him. Come on, man, I’m falling asleep here. I’ve seen your house. I know you’ve got some drama inside. Alas, he takes all the awkwardness and lets Blaine off the hook big-time by just talking and talking until Blaine’s at ease even though Karofsky’s the one who just got jilted: “It’s okay, it’s okay, I know. No hard feelings, okay?” Have some self-respect! Do you deserve Blaine or not? Not, I know, but you ought to think you do. Then again Blaine just kissed another guy, so everyone’s probably better off now, but in the heat of the moment, Karofsky’s entitled to some conflict. “There’s a whole world of guys out there waiting to be my rebound.” Is there?
Another reason things feel low-key is the set-list. The first four songs of the episode go in one ear and out the other. The episode starts with a Vocal Adrenaline performance of “You Give Love A Bad Name” as Will monologues about all the extra perks he gets for working for such a rich and invested school. Imagine getting the rights to a song and wasting them on Vocal Adrenaline. Next Will and Unique perform “Same Love” for an audience of eye-rolling stromtroopers. It’s at least tongue-in-cheek, but that’s the best I can say for it. The big showcase of “Transitioning” is a return to Rachel’s party basement from “Blame It On The Alcohol” where the class will perform duets about transitioning, ostensibly to help Rachel transition from her childhood home to whatever’s next. At no point does Rachel’s transition from the house her dads have sold bump into any real-life concerns like where she will live next. “Transitioning” isn’t about the physical. It’s about peace of mind. First on the floor are Mercedes and Roderick for “All About That Bass,” and they’re followed by Kurt and Blaine (who is involved for some reason) for “Somebody Loves You,” two classic songs about transition! At the second one Spencer hauls out Rachel’s costume and prop box, which inspires a lot of “funny” goofy dancing and stuff that really just makes you pine for the honest heartfelt emotions of “Blame It On The Alcohol.”
Each of those last two performances is followed by a kiss, and the second one jumpstarts the episode. The first is Rachel and Sam in her bedroom. The one thing she hasn’t boxed up is her wall of photos and mementos from her recent years, but Sam quietly, romantically tells her she can put up the wall at her new place. The memories are what’s important. They smooch, and then Rachel pulls back. She looks at him hesitantly, and then suddenly she dives in. That moment saves the scene. What’s exciting is not him finally getting her or them being together. It’s her being decisive. Last week Mercedes practically had to personally carry Rachel to a Broadway audition. This week Rachel seizes the moment. Next week: Rachel swoops back in to play Fanny again!
After “Somebody Loves You,” Kurt walks Blaine out, and they chit-chat about season two some more. Remember when Blaine asked out that GAP guy in song? Remember when Kurt and Blaine somehow didn’t kiss after “Baby, It’s Cold Outisde?” “Transitioning” has a lot of fondness for the old days (remember when Sam was homeless?), but the goal is to make the future seem even better. Which is why this time Blaine does kiss Kurt. Then he walks off, not in shame, more in satisfaction. The fifth song starts up with Kurt still standing there. It’s Rachel and Sam singing “Time After Time,” which multiplies the butterflies of the moment and makes for a sweet musical sequence itself. It’s slow and golden, the disco ball projecting colored spots across the room at a respectful rate. Everyone’s just watching and swaying instead of “having a ‘fun’ time dancing with props.” Then Kitty takes a picture, and we transition to Rachel and her friends turning her wall into a scrapbook. The pictures move like photos of Azkaban prisoners, which is a cheesy effect but a pointed one: A picture reminds us of a whole night, a whole event, a whole vacation. Best of all, Rachel’s all packed up, and all of this non-drama is behind us. Well, most of it. Walter’s still standing in Klaine’s way.
The last song is even better. Will has brought Vocal Adrenaline to McKinley under the guise of leading them in a kickass prank but really to, if I gather correctly, try to melt their hearts with song. You can’t call him inconsistent. As soon as Vocal Adrenaline is in the auditorium, the stage lights come up. Everybody ducks, and Unique walks out singing, “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray. She’s singing to Beiste, and the New Directions are in the wings, presumably waiting to come out and join Unique. Hell of a misdirection. Instead, the upstage lights reveal a trans choir that Sue later claims is 300-strong, which I think is an exaggeration but it’s hard to tell. The numbers are jaw-dropping, and purposely so. It’s a scene about community support and inspiration, and it’s overwhelming. Beiste walks up and joins them for the ending, and only after it’s done do the cis folks rush out to hug their friends and thank the choir and try to recruit them for Sectionals. I don’t know if Beiste will make any lasting friendships, which is to say I don’t know if this stunt will have any real bearing on his story. But it’s the standout musical sequence of the season so far. It gets Will to quit Vocal Adrenaline. It helps Beiste literally take his place in a community. And it gives a voice to trans people, letting them speak, or sing, for themselves.
- Vocal Adrenaline egged Blaine and Rachel, so they go to complain to Will. In the park. Where they somehow knew to find him.
- Emma’s back, but only to play sage wife. Excuse me, that and small-business owner: Her Pamphlet Of The Month Club is starting to bring in some extra cash.
- Rachel had been sabotaging the sale of her house, for instance, by dressing up as Samara from The Ring and hiding in the shower.
- Sue calls Will in because his kids were the ones who wrapped Beiste’s car. His response: “No one goes after one of my friends and gets away with it.” First of all, Sue called Will to discipline his students, not to stick up for his friend. But second of all, take it away, Sue: “Except for me. I always go after your friends, and I’ve never not gotten away with it.”
- Will tells his students, “This is about teaching you to act like human beings.” I was wondering how Glee was going to go about reform. The answer? Never mind.
- Reminder that Kurt is dating Walter. I could see dating older. I could see dating Harry Hamlin. I still can’t see Kurt dating Walter. It’s not personal prejudice. It’s narrative shallowness.
- Will joins Rachel and Kurt as (unpaid?) alumni advisor, so they start brainstorming the next week’s lesson with some of the best closing dialogue in the series. Will: “Do the kids have any personal problems?” Kurt: “We don’t really know. We don’t spend too much time talking to them.” Will: “You should. Get to know them. ‘Cause one day they may be the best friends you’ve ever had.”